Duterte will aim to strike a bal­ance

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE -

The ma­jor for­eign pol­icy chal­lenge fac­ing Ro­drigo Duterte when he takes of­fice as the Philippines pres­i­dent will ar­guably be bal­anc­ing the en­hance­ment of the Philip­pine’s de­fense re­la­tions with the United States and the im­prove­ment of the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal ties with China.

Duterte needs to ally the fear in the US that his pres­i­dency will lead to the cool­ing of Philip­pine-Amer­i­can re­la­tions, con­sid­er­ing his nasty re­marks against the US dur­ing his elec­tion cam­paign. Hav­ing been associated with per­son­al­i­ties in the Philip­pine com­mu­nist move­ment, Duterte dis­played a crit­i­cal and luke­warm at­ti­tude to­ward the US dur­ing the elec­tion.

Be­cause the Philip­pine Supreme Court has de­clared the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of the En­hanced De­fense Co­op­er­a­tion Agree­ment, Duterte has com­mit­ted to the in­evitable im­ple­men­ta­tion of the EDCA. But he as­serts that he will closely mon­i­tor the agree­ment to en­sure it is im­ple­mented in ac­cor­dance with the Philip­pine’s na­tional in­ter­ests.

So it seems the Duterte pres­i­dency will de­part from the ex­ces­sive pro-US stance of his pre­de­ces­sor Pres­i­dent Benigno Aquino III. This de­par­ture is now caus­ing un­easi­ness in the US State Depart­ment and the Pen­tagon. The chang­ing of guard in the US, which will have its own pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in Novem­ber, pro­vides an­other source of un­cer­tainty in the cur­rent trend and fu­ture di­rec­tion for Philip­pine-Amer­i­can re­la­tions.

While Duterte se­ri­ously val­ues the Philippines’ long­stand­ing se­cu­rity al­liance with the US, he seems to be more en­thu­si­as­tic about re­pair­ing the Philippines’ dam­aged po­lit­i­cal ties with China. In many of his pub­lic state­ments dur­ing his cam­paign, and in the af­ter­math of the re­cently con­cluded elec­tions, Duterte vowed to re­sume bi­lat­eral talks with China.

Duterte prefers the ex­plo­ration of peace­ful op­tions to ad­dress the Philippines’ South China Sea dis­putes with China. To peace­fully man­age the dis­putes with China in the South China Sea, Duterte has openly de­clared his pref­er­ence for pro­mot­ing joint de­vel­op­ment. Though Duterte still needs to clar­ify the de­tails of his idea of joint de­vel­op­ment, he seems to be fol­low­ing for­mer top Chi­nese leader Deng Xiaop­ing’s for­mula of shelv­ing ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes for the pur­pose of joint co­op­er­a­tion.

When asked by re­porters of his po­si­tion on the South China Sea dis­putes with China af­ter the elec­tion, Duterte said, “I would say to China, do not claim any­thing here — and I will not in­sist also that it is ours.” Again, this is a dras­tic de­par­ture from his pre­de­ces­sor who enun­ci­ated a hard-line South China Sea pol­icy, “What is ours is ours.”

Although the Per­ma­nent Court of Ar­bi­tra­tion at The Hague will soon an­nounce its de­ci­sion on the Philip­pine’s uni­lat­eral ar­bi­tra­tion case against China, Duterte seems to be more in­ter­ested in pur­su­ing a pol­icy of ac­com­mo­da­tion with China than forc­ing the is­sue of in­ter­na­tional ar­bi­tra­tion.

The Duterte pres­i­dency, how­ever, must be wary of the ef­fect of ex­ces­sive ac­com­mo­da­tion of China just to get in­vest­ments, im­prove trade, boost tourism, and re­vive de­vel­op­ment as­sis­tance. Ex­ces­sive ac­com­mo­da­tion of China could po­ten­tially un­der­mine the Philippines’ long stand­ing al­liance with the US.

Duterte’s pres­i­dency should stick to a for­eign pol­icy of hedg­ing by con­tin­u­ously en­hanc­ing the Philip­pine’s de­fense al­liance with the US while res­o­lutely im­prov­ing its po­lit­i­cal ties with China. In this case, the Philip­pine can prag­mat­i­cally ad­vance its na­tional in­ter­ests by get­ting the best of both worlds.

The Philippines does need to im­prove its ties with its close neigh­bor, China. But it still needs the warm em­brace of its dis­tant rel­a­tive, the US.

The au­thor teaches at the depart­ment of in­ter­na­tional stud­ies at Miriam Col­lege, the Philippines, and is the di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for In­tel­li­gence and Na­tional Se­cu­rity Stud­ies (CINSS), Chair­man of the Philip­pine In­sti­tute for Peace, Vi­o­lence and Ter­ror­ism Re­search. Cour­tesy: chin­aus­fo­cus.com

LI FENG/ CHINA DAILY

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